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Announcing the Candidates for 2016 AAVSO Council Elections

Slate of candidates for AAVSO Council elections to be held November 2016

Richard Berry, Lyons, Oregon
Tom Calderwood, Bend, Oregon
David Gagnon, Nantucket, Massachusetts
Mike Joner, Provo, Utah
Katrien Kolenberg, Heverlee, Belgium -  *running for re-election
Linda Morgan-O’Connor, Danforth, Maine
Richard S. Post, Lexington, Massachusetts
Gregory R. Sivakoff, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

 

Biographical statements from candidates

Richard Berry, Lyons, Oregon

I am running for Council because I support the goals and work of the AAVSO.  I want to see the organization operating on a solid financial base, growing in membership, continuing to make a significant contribution to the science of astronomy, and reaching out to the next generation of amateur and professional astronomers now in grade schools, high school, and college.

Telescopes, instruments, and precise measurement have always fascinated me.  While in junior high school, I became an avid telescope maker (culminating in a 12-inch Newtonian), got into astrophotography, constructed a spectrograph, and in 1964, measured the light curve of a lunar eclipse using a Clairex photocell at the focus of a 6-inch f/2 mirror.  After earning my BA (UVa) and MSc (York U), my work involved designing and building instruments for aurora research, optical air-pollution measurement, and the Apollo-Soyuz mission.

In 1976, I changed careers, joining the staff of ASTRONOMY as Technical Editor, and worked my way up to Editor-in-Chief.  In that role, I spent 16 years editing, writing, and promoting the enjoyment of astronomy at all levels.  I take pride in having built the solid editorial team that has taken ASTRONOMY from a struggling start-up with a minuscule budget to a profitable, large-circulation monthly magazine.

As a freelance writer, I wrote my first book, Build Your Own Telescope, followed by The Dobsonian Telescope, The CCD Camera Cookbook, The Handbook of Astronomical Image Processing, and Telescopes, Eyepieces, and Astrographs.  As a fledgling software developer, I created a succession of programs for image processing back in the days of MS-DOS.  My later program, Astronomical Image Processing for Windows (AIP4Win), is still widely used for CCD photometry by members of the AAVSO.

As a member of Council, I will work to see the current assets of the AAVSO employed fully and efficiently, and to help the AAVSO build membership, do great science, and serve as a resource for the astronomical community.

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Tom Calderwood, Bend, Oregon
I am a retired software engineer with a lifelong enthusiasm for astronomy.  Having taken up residence in the comparatively clear and dark skies of Central Oregon, I am finally able to practice photometry with my photoelectric equipment.  My career projects encompassed parallel
processing computers, satellite and terrestrial communication networks, video games, and remote sensing.  But more to the point, I spent nine years at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, working on the data system for the Chandra X-ray Observatory.  Education-wise, I have a BS in mathematics from MIT.  I've built two reflecting telescopes, one of which earned an optical 2nd prize at Stellafane.

I have been involved in outreach for many years.  I participated in Project Astro, and twice served as an “Astronomy VIP” at Acadia National Park, where I helped the staff ramp up a public viewing program.  I've lost count of the star parties I organized or supported.  I presently help with outreach at Pine Mountain Observatory near Bend, where I assist with public programs and lead high school students during the annual week-long astronomy workshop.  Last year's workshop produced the JAAVSO paper, “Simultaneous Collocated Photometry”.

My interests in serving on the Council are two-fold.  First, I want to address the sustainability of the association's computing infrastructure (“CI”).  This includes the main database, the web presence, data reduction pipelines, and the embedded systems at remote sites.  Second, I want to address the quality of our photometric data (inter-observer consistency is presently the main thrust of my own observing program).  I believe both of these areas are crucial as the AAVSO accumulates ever more electronic measurements.

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David Gagnon, Nantucket, Massachusetts

 I am currently the Executive Director of the Nantucket Maria Mitchell Association (MMA).  Founded in memory of America’s first women astronomer, Maria Mitchell, our association has been conducting important astronomical research on the island of Nantucket for well over a hundred years.  The MMA is most noted for its long history of training women in the field of astronomy.  Each summer, six undergraduate students from around the country come to Nantucket to participate in hands-on astrophysical research, supported by the National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates (NSF-REU) program.  All of the students present their work at the winter American Astronomical Society meeting and many students contribute to peer reviewed astronomical publications.  In 2009 the MMA was awarded the nation’s highest honor in recognition of science mentoring – the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Engineering and Mathematics Mentoring.  Many of today’s professional astronomers have a direct or strong connection to the MMA.  I passionately support the extraordinary research and education program of the MMA and I certainly support AAVSO’s efforts to encourage amateur and budding astronomers to explore the celestial world.

Prior to my work at the MMA I was the Chief Operating Officer for the Organic Trade Association (OTA) for 15 years, the only national trade association representing the $48 billion dollar organic industry.  My responsibilities included membership, annual fund, special events, finances, and information technology.  In that role I was personally involved with all aspects of membership acquisition and retention, achieving annual fund goals, and ensuring that we produced professional national and international events.  Prior to my work at the OTA, I was the co-executive director of the Bonnyvale Environmental Education Center in southern Vermont.  I am a graduate of Yale University (MES) and the University of Massachusetts (BS).

My particular interest in AAVSO surrounds citizen science.  There is much to be gained by educating and then engaging citizen scientists in meaningful research and discovery.  And although we are all surrounded by and reliant on science in every aspect of our daily lives, science and scientists have often been dismissed either due to a lack of understanding or for political reasons (climate science, eg.).  By involving more citizens in scientific endeavors we will increase appreciation for and understanding of science.  

As a council member I hope that I might have the opportunity to assist the good and important work of the AAVSO through my love of science, education, and understanding of not-for-profit organizations.       

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Mike Joner, Provo, Utah

I was raised in southwest Washington and became interested in science and astronomy as a young boy.  My mother drove me to star parties organized by the Portland Astronomical Society, where I met other amateur astronomers.  I worked with experienced amateurs who taught me how to grind mirrors and build my own telescope.  When I was in high school, my father helped me build an observatory in our back yard.  As I moved on with my education, I continued to seek out ways to make astronomy a major part of my life.  I had always wanted to be a PhD astronomer and work as an observational researcher.  To that end, I focused on physics and astronomy in college.  I have been the resident astronomer at Brigham Young University since 1981, where I hold the rank of Research Professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy.

My research has focused primarily on using photometric techniques to study just about anything that varies with time.  During a typical night of research at the West Mountain Observatory, targets observed can include active galaxies, transiting exoplanet candidates, globular cluster RR Lyrae stars, eclipsing binaries, SX Phe stars, recent supernovae, Cepheids, and even occasional solar system objects.  I have had opportunities to work as a visiting astronomer at major facilities all around the world.  I have spent hundreds of nights at Kitt Peak, Cerro Tololo, and the South African Astronomical Observatory.  I generally work on the modest sized meter-class telescopes, but have had the chance to spend nights working on larger telescopes such as the 4-meter on Kitt Peak or the 8-meter Gemini North telescope on Mauna Kea. One cool experience I had was to fly on the NASA Kuiper Airborne Observatory and do infrared observations.  I have even collaborated with amateur astronomers to produce educational images and secured the data for three NASA Astronomy Pictures of the Day in 2012.

My astronomy research has involved collaborations with both professional and amateur astronomers, which I find to be the most satisfying combination of research and enthusiasm.  Modern technology and the invaluable gifts of time and desire enable amateur astronomers to secure observations that are scientifically valuable.  Their passion for the subject provides me with a welcome respite from the administrative and other non-astronomical demands of my work.

I found the AAVSO early in my life but allowed raising my family, along with working and living at WMO, to put off membership until a later time.  I’m now working to make up for lost time and plan to be a part of the AAVSO as long as I’m on the planet.  These last few years of being a member of the AAVSO and attending the meetings have given me an opportunity to work in research that combines the best of scientific investigation along with a love of astronomy and the night sky.  I urge members to continue to make observations of any variable objects they choose.  My goal is to use my research background and decades of observational experience to provide assistance and suggestions that will help make the efforts of all AAVSO observers to have the maximum scientific value to other researchers throughout the astronomical community.

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*Katrien Kolenberg, Heverlee, Belgium

My fascination for the stars started when I was very young, and I am delighted to have turned this passion into a profession. I currently am an Astrophysics professor at the University of Antwerp (Belgium), while keeping professional ties with my alma mater (KU Leuven, Belgium) and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, MA.  My other role is that of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) coordinator for the KU Leuven (Belgium), and thinking of ways to bring these subjects closer to young people. (And for this, astronomy is a great example, a discipline in which all the components of STEM are merged!)

 My research focuses on pulsations in different types of variables, mostly RR Lyrae stars.  I have conducted research projects combining photometric (PMT, CCD, visual, including AAVSO), spectroscopic, and spectropolarimetric data, obtained both from the ground and from space. In confronting these precious data with stellar models, we get a better understanding of the inner workings of stars. I enjoy my fruitful collaborations with amateur astronomers just as much as my involvement in current/upcoming space missions for variable stars (e.g., Kepler/K2, Gaia).  My experience across the spectrum of astronomical facilities has made me appreciate the AAVSO’s historical position and unique role all the more!

I have a strong commitment to astronomy education and outreach, particularly for communities where inspiration makes the most difference. This drives me as Steering Committee member of the International Astronomical Union’s Office of Astronomy for Development.  I have organized astronomy schools and workshops in West Africa and Central Asia for students and high-school teachers, and always point out (and teach about) variable stars as an exciting research field that is both inclusive and expansive.

As a Council member, I would like to help the AAVSO expand its membership in age range, gender, and localization (worldwide) through targeted outreach projects, as well as increase and enhance Pro-Am collaborations.

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Linda Morgan-O’Connor, Danforth, Maine

My interests are broad, including astronomy, geology, and the visual arts.  I think that having a wide variety of interests and experiences often helps me to see novel ways of looking at problems and forming creative solutions to those challenges.

My educational background includes a Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics and Natural Sciences from Worcester University.  In addition, I studied art techniques at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, took graduate courses in Geology at the University of Connecticut, and studied Introductory Astronomy at Western New Mexico University.

I managed the Visiting Artist Studios, a component of the Explore and Discover Program of the Uxbridge Public Schools.  This program won the ASTC Award in 2001 with its partner, the Science Discovery Museum in Acton.  During my tenure there I helped to create connections between the arts and sciences, providing community and school arts and science-based exhibitions and outreach programs.  During this period I also served for several years as the President of the Blackstone Valley Art Association, managing the organization and writing grants to further the goals and projects of that non-profit organization.

Upon retirement, with time and freedom from a schedule, I was able to re-kindle my lifelong interest in astronomy.  I soon joined the AAVSO, hoping to make worthwhile observations for science.  So far, my experience has been visual observations of long-period variables, but I am looking forward to expanding my toolkit to include DSLR techniques.  Presently I am working on putting together a “road-worthy” setup for observing variables that will survive the rigors of long-term travel while not taking up very much space.  I am looking at this as my newest technical challenge.  (And trust me – I am technically challenged).

I am running for the AAVSO Council because I understand that the strongest organizations continue to grow and evolve best when many members contribute their time, energy, and unique point of view to the organization.  There is no crystal ball to predict what problems may arise for an organization during a given tenure.  I can promise to work responsibly and amicably with the group, and apply my positive energy and intelligence toward finding good solutions that will grow and strengthen our organization long into the future.

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Richard S. Post, Lexington, Massachusetts

After getting a BS in Eng. Physics from UC Berkeley, I taught physics and physics education in Bogota, Colombia, as a Peace Corps Volunteer.  Afterwards, I went to Columbia University for PhD in Applied Physics focusing on plasmas.  I was an Associate Professor in Nuclear Engineering at University of Wisconsin, Madison working in plasma physics, fusion, and plasma-material interaction.  In 1981, I moved my research to MIT, joining the Plasma Science and Fusion Center where I lead the TARA group in a large mirror confinement experiment using 24MW of utility power not available in Madison.  As fusion funding began to decline, three of us finished the experiment and started Applied Science and Technology, Inc., ASTeX, selling a product line of reactive gas generators to semiconductor equipment companies.  ASTeX went public in 1993, a time before Sarbanes-Oxley, when a small <$100M in revenue high tech equipment company could IPO.  In 2001, we merged with MKS Instruments to reduce the cost of global operations and diversify the customer base.  That year, with investors, I started NEXX Systems, this time to build semiconductor production tools focused on packaging chips for cell phones.  The iPhone created the market for NEXX’s success.  Every part in your phone was processed by ASTeX generators or packaged using NEXX System tools.  In 2012, NEXX Systems was sold to Tokyo Electron to get the infrastructure and size to support Intel and Japanese companies.  At this point, I retired.  Bought an 8” telescope and viewed my fist galaxy with my own eyes. I was hooked.  In Maine where we have a vacation home, I set up an observatory with a PlaneWave CDK17.  A few years later, I added a CDK24 in NM and one at Sierra Remote Observatories.  All are run remotely using ACP.  My focus is on the ultimate variable star – supernova - with search, photometry, and spectroscopy of bright SNs.  I work with the Puckett Supernova Search, and ASAS-SN of Ohio State University.

I joined AAVSO to learn how amateurs can produce data which can be used in professional research.  It has been a great experience for me.  I see members very committed to the organization and are all continuing to learn and seeking to expand their capability.  I would like to add my experience of 25 years as Chairman of the Board of private and public companies.  On these boards we sought to recruit board members with certain skills – finance, global operations, established contact with the customer base, and critically important, the ability to assist with funding the company.  Fast growing equipment companies like ours with 50% compound growth rates use up more cash than they can generate even when they are profitable.  I see the need for AAVSO to have similar goals for council members.  What are the skill sets required – finance, operations which includes IT, marketing, knowledge of the customer base, and the ability to help raise money? The AAVSO board should seek to find council members with these skills.  I would like to participate in this process of expanding the board skill set.  What is the purpose of a board?  One of my very successful board members told me a board is to help the CEO, approve the budget, make sure the CEO is doing a good job, and not to run the company.  His statement is a good base line for evaluating Council’s success and the contribution of each individual member.  One may think that non-profits are somehow different from for-profit companies.  However, both are social organizations which assemble for a common purpose.  They must excel in their goal or they will vanish.

I am on the AAVSOnet taskforce to provide options for the council on how AAVSOnet can continue on minimal budget and have been looking for ways that AAVSO might contribute to STEM education using AAVSOnet assets.  STEM education is an area with Stella has identified she would like AAVSO to make a contribution.

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Gregory R. Sivakoff, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

“Space is big. You ought to find your place in it.”  Taking my Dad's advice to heart, I began researching black holes as an undergraduate in 1998, and have since earned my PhD in astronomy (2006).  In 2011, I became an Assistant Professor at the University of Alberta (Canada).  Here, I teach physics and astronomy, perform research, and heavily engage in public outreach.  I am a member of the American Astronomical Society, Canadian Astronomical Society, Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, and of course the AAVSO.

I study black holes, neutron stars, and white dwarfs, focusing on close binaries with these objects (X-ray binaries and cataclysmic variables).  I observe these highly variable objects across most of the electromagnetic spectrum, using telescopes from all over (and above) the world.  My strongest expertise is at X-ray and radio wavelengths.

I have worked with the AAVSO on observing campaigns since 2010 (e.g., working on the cataclysmic variable SS Cygni and the X-ray binary V404 Cygni).  While I started as a behind-the-scenes researcher collecting the AAVSO data, I now take it upon myself to interact closely with AAVSO members involved in a campaign.  I fully believe in the importance of citizen scientists and “professional” astronomers working together, as each community offers their own unique, and complementary set of expertise.  This cooperation was critical when AAVSO members helped my team and me determine the distance to SS Cygni.

I am honored to be considered as a potential member of the AAVSO council and it would be a privilege to serve in that position.  As a council member, I believe that I can apply the techniques I have learned through my multiple AAVSO campaigns (and in organizing the worldwide response of "professional" astronomers) to promote stronger interaction between professional and citizen scientists.  This is an especially critical time for such interaction as “professional” astronomers across the electromagnetic spectrum are reawakening to the power (and fun!) of time-domain astronomy.

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